Expressions of authentic emotion are important. One has the right and duty to cry out in the wilderness the best one can. Although he is too old to comment about RATM much less current cultural references, “Francisco Nejdanov Solomin,” the founder of gardenvarietydemocraticsocialist.com, sees it as appropriate to direct “rage” against the machine. However, this is not as easy a notion as it might appear, partly because rage can be toxic and dehumanizing to the participants, whom the machine may have already dehumanized quite enough and against whom the machine may be happy to direct its military force.
To its credit, the Occupy Movement, which Brother Francisco supported, was about much more than rage. To use a cultural reference from his own younger days, he no longer believes that “anger is an energy.” As a fearless woman
once counseled, we should raise all the hell that is justified but have malice toward none.
Of course, if you have to choose between stifling authentic anger and resisting serious injustice, chose the latter. Anger is a normal emotion in response to injustice. When the authorities and economic system are corrupt and undemocratic, the working men and women and their families should not be forced to suffer in silence. After the Ludlow Massacre (please read the link to sense the evil that led up to and perpetrated that massacre against worker families), the socialist writer Upton Sinclair justifiably wrote John D. Rockefeller, Jr., owner of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company:
I intend to indict you for murder before the people of this country. The charges will be pressed, and I think the verdict will be “Guilty.”
But he made it clear he wanted to end Rockefeller power, not the man. As Sinclair and others wrote, it was for profits that Rockefeller’s crimes were committed, “and it is by depriving you of profits that they must be punished, and at the same time prevented for all future time.”
Still, in his “Memoir of a Proud Boy,” Marx-reading socialist Carl Sandburg did not seek to deny the justice of “a vengeance of Slavs miners, Italians, Scots, Cornishmen, Yanks” in the aftermath of the Ludlow Massacre:
They killed swearing to remember
The shot and charred wives and children
In the burnt camp of Ludlow,
And Louis Tikas, the laughing Greek,
Plugged with a bullet, clubbed with a gun butt.
When seemingly mild-mannered Carl heard about the events in the life of the “proud boy” socialist reporter, whom he knew from his own work as a socialist reporter, and whose orders were followed in the Colorado Coalfield War in the aftermath of Ludlow, his emotions were appropriately stirred to action and so are ours:
He had no mother but Mother Jones
Crying from a jail window of Trinidad:
“All I want is room enough to stand
And shake my fist at the enemies of the human race.”
However, those were effective military conditions caused by a brutally repressive state regime doing the bidding of capital. Mother Jones later wrote about the circumstances after the Ludlow Massacre:
The strikers issued a general call to arms: Every able bodied man must shoulder a gun to protect himself and his family from assassins, from arson and plunder. From jungle days to our own so-named civilization, this is a man’s inherent right. To a man they armed, through-out the whole strike district. Ludlow went on burning in their hearts.
As much as it may compel victims of oppression and their allies in particular situations like the Ludlow Massacre, anger is not the energy on which one should generally operate. Fighting injustice requires passion, but it also involves moral clarity, persistence, and planning.
In a 1978 interview given in his early twenties, John Lydon was far more brave and honest than the authorities about the pedophile Jimmy Savile, but at the same time he expressed similar distaste for Mick Jagger and “supposed anarchists like turned into bourgeoisie.” Soon thereafter, he himself flamboyantly went “corporate” with “Public Image Ltd”.
[Brother Francisco, possessor of a wellworn and personally influential PiL LP, “album”, will now attempt to be a socialized rock critic:] In a time of broad cultural dishonesty, Lydon’s overly blatant cynicism was a symbol of honesty and preserved a potential for social utility in his work. Several years later he recorded a great song around the theme that anger is an energy,
but he admitted, “I could be wrong,” and he underlay his anger at apartheid and torture with signs of a journey forward together of the expendable. He restrained his post-punk passion with an ambivalence that connoted humility and human kinship.
Artists need not be coherent parts of a movement. Successful movements, however, eventually require coherence. Anger should never be a style statement or a substitute for strategy. While the world always has plenty about which a species-being could sincerely be angry, no major social project can afford to make anger its defining characteristic.
Socialism is the great social project. While we should deal with genuine anger in a productive way and resist oppression, we should strive for love and a deep non-superficial peace in our lives and in our world and definitely should not make anger the centerpiece of our praxis. The incorrect assumption that anger was de rigueur kept Brother Francisco from fully embracing socialism for twenty-five years and diverts attention from the needed socialism, which not only insists upon but is deep democracy and respect for human rights:
[I] feel different now, secure of heart and mind as I have never been before. I have made the decision to be true to myself, a self that is if not red at least a variable shade of pink. I woke up one day early this year while I was already standing on my feet. I realized that for decades I had been living in a stultifying dream in which I was being intimidated from the calling I felt in the late 1980’s to be a socialist. …
Back then … [I] privately became confused because of the bad examples of “actually existing socialism” and a concern with the oft-repeated mantra of the perceived necessity for violent revolution. I was not about to be an “immediatist” but did not realize that this is not the only, much less the best model, for socialist transformation of society … I absolutely did not feel that violent revolution could be justified where polling places are available. No one was around to tell me about democratic socialism. I soon became depressed with the senselessness of being seemingly one person alone in the Deep South attempting to defy what at the time seemed to be all the trends. How easy it is, at least for a time, to deny one’s true self ….
[I] do not know what motivates you. If you are anything like me I know what will not motivate you–a philosophy of hatred. The philosophies of hatred are on the right and include fascism, National Socialism, and the KKK.
On the left, in the U.S. communists are tainted to some extent by reputations for cold harshness if not outright hatred too. Some of this is stirred up by reactionary propagandists, but some of this was embodied in persons like Stalin and Mao. Moreover, Karl Marx’s seemingly dogmatic edict for atheism made many otherwise potentially sympathetic religious people feel excluded from communism. To be excluded may feel like “hate.” To be told you cannot be part of the plan to save humanity because of a personal belief is hurtful though not intended to be hateful. On top of that, if you are like me and once saw anarcho-communists hatefully picking fights with San Francisco policemen during what should have been a peaceful march against the Iraq war, well that might feel like hate to those policemen, and it did not impress me in the least, and I do not think it helped their cause at all. I guess I am into flowers and peace signs, and peaceful civil disobedience, rather than breaking numbers three through five of the Socialist Commandments.
So, what takes the place of “anger” as energy in positive loving socialism? You have to decide what fills the void in you for yourself (and as a Christian contemplative, Brother Francisco does not feel that embracing the void is a bad thing), but below are ten nonsectarian socialist “commandments” worth considering. Brother Francisco loves these. They were developed by socialists who were ethically-motivated but wanted to assure the solidarity essential to socialism, without regard to religion, by forming “Socialist Sunday Schools.” They have been a great source of wisdom and inspiration to Brother Francisco since he found them. Part of the sixth socialist commandment, about being a friend to the weak, is in this website’s three-part motto. These are worth grappling with, in addition to other moral principles one hopefully brings to her or his socialism.
Sectarian “commandments” may be helpful to some and idiotic or even repulsive to others. Viewed from Brother Francisco’s religious tradition, “loving” even one’s enemies (Matthew 5:44) on some level appropriate to circumstances is important so that we can promote just peace. However, “forgiveness” of an “unrepentant” evil and powerful person perpetuates oppression. In the section of Evangelii Gaudium on ”THE COMMON GOOD AND PEACE IN SOCIETY,” Pope Francis refused to endorse a peace obtained through repression of human needs:
218. Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others. Nor does true peace act as a pretext for justifying a social structure which silences or appeases the poor, so that the more affluent can placidly support their lifestyle while others have to make do as they can. Demands involving the distribution of wealth, concern for the poor and human rights cannot be suppressed under the guise of creating a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority. The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised.
219. Nor is peace “simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day towards the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect justice among men”. In the end, a peace which is not the result of integral development will be doomed; it will always spawn new conflicts and various forms of violence.
(Brother Francisco’s socialized textual analysis of Evangelii Gaudium can be found in Part III. of this lengthy post. In that post Brother Francisco, who is an open-minded free-thinking Episcopalian, also candidly makes clear areas of strong disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church’s current social teaching, including women’s, reproductive, and GLBT rights.) Another way of describing this quest for a peace which is the result of integral development is, as another Jesuit once said, striving for justice in the service of love.
As laudable as Brother Francisco believes these views are, many people are understandably uncomfortable relying on or even consulting a religion or a religious leader for instruction in any matters, including “anger management.” It is important to question conduct to make sure it accords with what is just and loving in a way that all, or at least most, socialists (and hopefully most people in general) can identify.
Socialism should not belong to any sectarian group but seek to bring different people together into a broader, and one day worldwide, community. People are different, and we should respect these differences. Socialism at its core should be about true building of a community of equality for the common benefit through cooperation that celebrates our differences instead of true preventing of such a community through competition that exploits our differences for capitalist profit. Capitalism fights such true community-building tooth and nail. To survive this onslaught, the oppressed and their allies must be in solidarity. In a complex world, it will be much better to celebrate our differences than to demand that we somehow erase our differences prior to pursuing socialism.
Using varying specific language, socialists long have recognized the need for solidarity to support justice in the service of love, often without relying upon a religious frame of reference. Socialism ultimately should be about love, which is a human concept, not the province of any one group. As the Jamaican democratic socialist Michael Manley timelessly said in our ever-complicated world, where capitalism continuously seeks to impose and re-impose itself, “The word is love.”
True love for humanity cannot be oblivious to human needs. Love requires striving for material justice for all of humankind. Love is delusional if it does not take account of material needs. By the same token, justice can become its opposite if it loses its mooring in love. As species-beings, regardless of our position on religion, we should seek justice as lovingly as possible, including to ourselves, and take account of circumstances rationally, which includes consideration of the material well-being of others.
Sorting this out can be incredibly confusing. The powerful capitalists like it when we are confused and pessimistic, so that we give up on justice and settle for whatever material goods or pleasures we can obtain for ourselves. They want us to direct scorn against ourselves and each other in the bread wars. They, directly or indirectly, want to crush human solidarity, the better to hold onto power and control of the world’s material resources. “Competition” is heavily driven by fear and greed manifesting in scorn, but the powerful capitalists expect themselves to be beyond scorn from the people forced to compete for the bread. They want our homage not our scorn. They want us to be mercenaries for them and gladiators against each other. They do not want Spartacus to revolt against the capitalist system and its imperialist games.
If we must have any scorn in our lives, it should be pointed in the right direction and never seen as a substitute for justice in the service of love. Brother Francisco does not believe that one violates the fifth socialist commandment by scorning the torturer and murderer of an innocent person like Agnes Sampson. Scorn in such a situation is a natural response. However, when Brother Francisco wrote “Homage and Scorn” (which is at the beginning of this lengthy post), and since then, he has felt trepidation even about “scorning” wicked King James (“him whom we dare scorn”) in an act of “poetic justice.” Thus should one feel when “scorning.” Scorning is nothing to be happy about and not a state in which to remain. It is close enough to “hating” that it should be done sparingly and with sadness, not a sense of validation. The mission is not “to scorn” but “to stop serious injustice from occurring,” ever mindful that justice should be in the service of love or it may quickly become injustice itself.
Yet, sometimes we must “dare scorn.” If we are not to have a high tolerance to other people’s pain, we must honestly categorize oppression and work to end it the best we can, which will involve Niebuhrian coercion the powerful capitalists will find most unpleasant, as well as involve the emotions of the oppressed and their allies.
You have to decide for yourself, but Brother Francisco believes that every socialist, whether or not religious, can greatly benefit from these nonsectarian words. They can help us with our anger management in the tough days ahead by making sure we ground our justice in love. We much teach ourselves to love. We will never learn to love by emulating the powerful capitalists who, for now, run our world.
The origin of these commandments is wonderfully discussed here. To read how this type of ethical foundation fits into Brother Francisco’s democratic socialism, please see Pamphlet No. 1: A Winding Path to Workers’ Gardens/Un camino de bobina a jardines de trabajadores, beginning at page 17. For additional thoughts on hellraising that does not run on malice, please consult Hellraisers Journal at Daily Kos, which examines the life and times of Mother Jones.
May the road rise with you.